Time and Time Again - Johnny Casino (Folc Records)
Recorded in fits and spurts across four years and multiple countries, “Time and Time Again” had a drawn-out, trans-national gestation and birth. That’s fitting because it’s an album with a spirit that doesn’t need a visa to work in any place that’s receptive to spirited, heartfelt rock and roll.
It’s been said before but bears repetition: Johnny Casino’s been a moderately well-kept secret in his birth country of Australia since he struck out under his own name in the ‘90s. With Easy Action and then The Secrets - the former a US-spawned crew, the latter a rotating cast of members in various Aussie state capital cities - he’s built a formidable body of work without bothering mainstream taste arbiters.
That lack of overground success is no real surprise; As great as it is, Johnny’s music is unfashionably raw, rootsy and too rocking for a world numbed by auto-tuners and commodified blandness. People don’t know what they like, they like what they know. It’s been that way for a long time.
Casino draws musical inspiration from all sorts of places: The Band, Dylan, Chuck Berry and the Flamin’ Groovies among them, although that’s just scratching the surface. You can try and spot the influences on “Time and Time Again” if that’s your inclination. We’ll skip the over-analysis.
First, the mildly unpleasant news. Only two-thirds of the album’s nine songs are new. “Hit The Ground Running”, “You Still Got Nothing To Say” and “No Direction Home” have surfaced on limited edition 45s. While the completists among us would have liked an album of all new material, the defence case is easy to prosecute..."Your Woirship, these were short-run vinyl singles, most people wouldn’t have heard them." And the way they’ve been sequenced makes the album whole.
Musically, “Time and Time Again” doesn’t stray far from other Casino albums, but the scope of the songs seems a little wider and Johnny’s vocal definitely continues to grow in strength. Of course the man’s trademark saturated blues guitar is there, but at times it takes a back seat and gives clear air to the organ or electric piano. There's quite a bit of both all over theese songs. The other common thread between the various bands on this record is the stellar, combo playing. No notes are wasted.
You may have your own choice after listening but for me, “This Christmas Time (She’ll Fly Away)” sums up the record perfectly. Sentimental (but not cloyingly so), it’s a simple song about a significant other flying home for the Festive Season. Will she be back? That nagging fear is there, the sense of loss, even if it's brief. It's all wrapped up in a swelling melody, well rendered vocal and some sweet, stunning guitar. It’s also a clue as to why the now married JC has packed up and moved to live in Spain.
“La Vila Nova” is the surprise track; laid-back and floating on a cushion of Jeremy Craib’s Hammond organ, it’s a gorgeous instrumental with Casino’s tender and melodic guitar prominent but never pushy.
It’s a precursor (and very close relative) to the song that follows. “No Direction Home”. This is a bleak look back on a closed door or relationship. Moving on. The band sounds relentless as they build the intensity, and the lyrics are some of Casino’s best:
Lonely cold open and wide is the road we walked on
Together we were so alone we got no direction home
A cool breeze old and dark howls up around the bend
And it blows for you and me and it´s all that I can see
Great songs like that one abound. So do great players, drawn from membership of bands like Warped, Datura4, Bluejuice, The Casanovas, The Drones, The Boobytraps, Leadfinger, Asteroid B612, Killing Time, The Volcanics and The Clouds. And they’re just the ones from Australia.
“Time and Time Again” is on Spanish label Folc Records and available in every format. Bandcamp can fulfill your physical and digital needs.